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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
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Published: Friday, 7/18/2014 - Updated: 1 month ago

SPORTS COMMENTARY

Diaz shakes nerves, takes early lead

BY DAVE HACKENBERG
BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST

Laura Diaz has won but two LPGA tournaments during a pro career that stretches 16 years. But that isn’t really a fair measure or reflection of her presence in women’s golf.

A decade ago, maybe a little more, she was one of the top 10 players in the world. She posted both of her victories in 2002, and represented the United States with inspired golf and patriotic fervor on four Solheim Cup teams between 2002 and ’07.

Diaz has amassed career earnings of $5.4 million built, in part, on 57 top-10 finishes. She has nothing left to prove, no apologies to make, no reason to get out of her car and start shaking when she steps onto a golf course.

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That’s exactly what started happening about four years ago. Nerves are one thing; shaking like a leaf is another. Call ’em the body yips.

Funny thing. Diaz said there was no shaking Thursday when she began the first round of the Marathon Classic at Highland Meadows.

Coincidence or not, all Diaz did — in starting her round on the back nine — was birdie the first five holes. She took a good look at the course record, Paula Creamer’s 60, before settling for a career-best round of 62 and a healthy four-shot lead after one round.

“For awhile, I’ve done a lot of shaking, physically shaking, when I start my round,” she said. “I can’t remember exactly when it started, maybe about four years ago. I know that I've always been nervous. Everybody says that nerves show that you care. So I've always had the nerves my entire career. But I don't know; I think after having my second child, I tended to get a little more nervous out there and be a little more unsure of myself.

“It usually takes about two holes and I settle in; it goes away. But today, I didn't seem to be doing that. I was a little calmer.”

She started calm and soon played as if she was unconscious. Her fifth straight birdie, at the 14th hole, came when a 30-foot putt made one final spin and disappeared into the cup.

“When the fifth one went in — it was a long putt and went in — I kind of chuckled to myself,” she said. “Well, actually, out loud. And when I missed a seven-footer for birdie on the next hole, I said to my caddie, ‘That would have tied the most [consecutive] birdies I’ve ever had in a round.’”

Diaz is 39 years old and the mother of two young children. Family is, by far, first on her list of priorities. It’s not that golf is no longer important. After all, the competitive fire might flicker, but is never fully extinguished.

Still, it has been awhile between great rounds and tournament contentions. Nobody keeps statistics like this, I don’t think, but it would be interesting to know if any player has been older and had more years under her belt when recording a career-low score. If it isn’t Diaz, she’s at least in the ballpark.

Diaz seemed to recall shooting a 62 at Highland Meadows in one of her many previous appearances here. That means her memory was the only shaky thing Thursday.

Her previous career-best LPGA round, accomplished twice, was 63. Her best round at the Meadows, before Thursday, was a 64 in 2002 when she finished third in the then-Jamie Farr Classic. She has four top-10 finishes through the years on a course that can yield red numbers by the bushel one day and stiffen the next.

“I love coming here, and I’ve shot everything here,” she said with a smile.

A fifth top-10 would be rather surprising, although she sure put together a good start with a nine-birdie, no-bogey round.

Diaz knows that one day doesn’t promise anything the next. But the prospect of following up a great round with another low one wasn’t about to keep her tossing and turning overnight.

“Unless it’s Sunday, every time we tee it up you have to follow up a round,” she said.

It can be a shaky proposition.

Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: dhack@theblade.com or 419-724-6398.



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